Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology
Developing novel chemical approaches with simpler methods, higher quality and wider availability for patients
Imaging Chemistry & Biology studies the development and assessment of molecular imaging agents to help us improve detection and understanding of disease. Our research groups work together in highly integrated ways with an emphasis on strong team ethos. In this way, we make exceptionally efficient use of our laboratory space and diverse academic expertise.
We interact closely with other departments in the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences to optimise imaging capability and translate new science into clinical application. Our specialisms are:
Molecular imaging has assumed enormous importance, alongside structural and functional imaging, in the clinical evaluation of new cancer drugs, through the use of imaging biomarkers for selection of patients most likely to respond to specific drugs, and for early detection of response to treatment with the aim of accelerating the measurement of endpoints.
Within the department we are developing novel chemistry platforms applicable to both a range of cancer specific molecules and contrast labels (metal and non-metal, for PET, SPECT, MRI and/or optical), while at the same time optimising existing molecular imaging approaches. We are also developing novel delivery technologies applicable to the targeted delivery of MRI contrast agents, radionuclides, genetic material, or small molecule therapeutics, either singly or combined. Such approaches allow us to use these novel molecular imaging concepts and molecular probes for PET, SPECT, MR and optical imaging of novel cancer molecular targets, feeding the “translational pipeline” towards clinical oncology.
Our group has several ongoing research projects which employ molecular imaging techniques to study and characterise cardiovascular disease. Historically, much of this work stemmed from using our unique combined PET/MR system (which we called PANDA) to simultaneously track cardiac glucose uptake by 18FDG PET and cardiac energetics (by 31P NMR spectroscopy) and relate them to each other. While this work continues, and now focuses investigating the role of hexokinase in maintaining cardiac viability and cardio protection, our research interests, available technologies and techniques have expanded significantly.
We currently have active research programs using PET to quantify and characterise cardiac hypoxia and oxidative stress, using SPECT to observe and characterise platelet adhesion to the myocardium and study the effects of platelets on arrhythmogenesis, and MR techniques including Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation to study cardiac metabolism of hyperpolarised substrates such as pyruvate or lactate during evolving heart disease.
Within the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology we have a number of projects developing contrast agents to better understand the fundamental immunology of inflammation, transplant rejection and monitoring of therapy response.
In vivo tracking of labelled stem and immune cells is a key component of several projects within the department, using both reporter genes and direct ex vivo labelling of cells, in conjunction with PET, SPECT and MR. Literature methods for radiolabelling cells abound but evidence that labelled cells behave and replicate normally is sparse and contradictory. It is imperative to check cell function and survival with a range of general and specific assays and minimise toxicity by selecting delivery systems that control sub-cellular contrast agent distribution.
Non-invasive imaging of the central nervous system has been a major application of PET over the last 25 years. To date numerous 11C and 18F radiotracers have been developed and applied for basic, clinical and translational research into brain function in health and disease. These include radioligands for imaging numerous receptor and enzyme subtypes, labelled metabolic substrates, endogenous and exogenous compounds.
The Department has strong links to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and many other CNS-related departments at King’s. Diseases of interest include Schizophrenia, Autism, Anxiety, Depression, Dementia, Epilepsy, blood-brain-barrier function (e.g. Drug efflux pumps) glia imaging and the evaluation of novel and established therapeutics.
Currently research activities fall into two main areas; the use of functional imaging techniques to quantify bone metabolism in patients with metastatic and metabolic bone disease and the investigation of the link between osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Over the last decade we have developed and refined the 18F-fluoride PET technique to enhance precision and reduce scan complexity and more recently have developed a unique method for quantitatively assessing bone metabolism at any site within the skeleton.
The research group combines extensive experience within the School in the fields of metabolic bone disease, PET imaging, nuclear medicine, image processing and computational science to better understand the pathophysiology of metastatic and metabolic bone disease and the evaluation of novel drugs for the enhanced treatment of these patients.
Chemistry research in the department is focused on:
A key aim is to make radiolabelling simpler, faster and more efficient, and to make radiopharmaceuticals of higher quality and hence more likely to be widely available for the benefit of patients. Because of the integration within the Department and School we can exploit the considerable scope for application of the new chemistry across many biomedical areas.